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The Dominions, and the Statute of Westminster

A part of New Zealand /

A part of New Zealand /

Readers become confused by the essential differences between dominions and colonies and protectorates. The British Empire, when it existed, embraced all three. ‘Dominions’ was the name used for countries in the Empire that had a certain degree of self-government, but owed allegiance to the British Crown. The first country to be called a Dominion was Canada (1867), followed by Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, and, at last, the Irish Free State in 1921. Their new independence was officially recognised at the Imperial Conference in 1926. Actual power to pass legislation independently of the Government was confirmed by the Statute of Westminster.

In 1931 this Statute gave freedom to the Dominions. Following the Great War these Dominions had been accepted as national states in their own right, though they were still part of the Empire. They joined the ill-fated League of Nations (q.v.) but it was seen (by them) as if their ‘freedom’ was still limited. (more…)

What was the British ‘Raj’?

Last splendours of the 'Raj'; Mountbatten after his swearing-in a Viceroy /en

Last splendours of the ‘Raj’; Mountbatten after his swearing-in as Viceroy / en

Raj is Hindi for ‘rule’. The East India Company (always known as The Company) had opened up this vast Asian territory since the latter part of the 18th century. Largely because of corrupt practices, the British government took control in 1858. India was to be governed by a Viceroy in situ and a Secretary of State in London. The country would be controlled and administered by the Indian civil service, created in 1853 with entrance permitted only by the passing of competitive examinations, where there was supposed to be no racial discrimination. The exams were, however, held in London so Indians taking them were few and far between. They did manage however to secure the less important posts.

It became obvious that a few thousand British officials could not control tens of millions of Indians (305 million in 1921, 400 million in 1941) without the cooperation of the natural (and hereditary) leaders in the princely states, which meant 30% of the continent with around a quarter of the population. The British therefore awarded honours and restricted powers to the princes, while at the same time impressing them with British strength at the mightily staged Durbars. (more…)

Victoria, the Queen Empress

I am lucky enough to have a wife who found an almost complete collection of early Victorian lithographs in a back street of Lymington. They are dated and signed by the lithographer, and the date is 1840. The series starts with William Duke of Normandy and First of England, and ends with rather a pretty portrait of a sad-looking girl. A guest saw this and exclaimed, “This cannot be Queen Victoria you fool! Much too young; she was an old, fat woman with a disagreeable expression.” So much for the study of history; the lithograph was made just three years after Victoria became queen in 1837 at the age of nineteen. (more…)

English monarchs from the Norman Line to the Windsors

The Crown of St. Edward /

The Crown of St. Edward /

Before a Norman Duke successfully invaded England, there had been in the Danish or Viking Line six kings including the last two, Edward the Confessor (started building Westminster Abbey) and Harold II (very much a Viking, killed at the Battle of Hastings). Then it goes as follows:-

Norman Line: William the Conquerer 1066-87 – William II known as Rufus, murdered perhaps at the order of Henry I followed by Stephen and then Henry II (first of the Plantagenet dynasty, who had four sons, three of whom were revolting for one reason or other – Richard Lionheart, John and Geoffrey who was never King. After these came Henry III (1216 – 72 fifty-six years in which he did not do much for anybody including himself but was father of Edward I who did a great deal and was one of England’s greatest kings whatever Mel Gibson says. He had a son who became Edward II who did unsuitable things with male favourites such as the Despensers, ancestors of Diana, Princess of Wales, and a Gascon knight called Piers Gaveston. All three favourites were bumped off by the Barons, as was poor Edward, murdered in Berkeley Castle at the orders of his wife and Mortimer. Then came Edward III 1327 – 77, another long reign and a great King, though he was indeed the son of Edward II. After him came twenty-two years of Richard II, who started well by extinguishing the Peasants’ Revolt, but went wrong, made himself disliked by his barons, and got murdered in 1399 just in time for the – (more…)

What was ‘Apartheid’?



Nelson Mandela /

Nelson Mandela /

  The word itself is Afrikaans or South African Dutch and means ‘separateness’. In the 50s of the last century a morbid joking pun was made in the music halls, calling it ‘apart-hate’, and one can understand why. It was the purely racial policy of a government, stemming from the Population Registration Act of 1950 in South Africa. The Act divided the population into three: Bantu if you were black, White, and Coloured if you were of mixed race. A little later a fourth section was added – Asian. (more…)

The Malayan Campaign and Emergency



Ge, Sir Gerald Templer /

Gen. Sir Gerald Templer /

  The campaign was a military action in South-East Asia between December 1941 and August, 1945 during the Second World War. General Tomoyuki secured free passage through Thailand because of an agreement with the Vichy administration in France (pro-German). He then invaded northern Malaya in December 1941 while his companions were assaulting Singapore with great success. While Japanese aircraft bombed the city, British, Indian and Australian troops retreated to the south. It was a failure, as they were then taken prisoner after the fall of Singapore in February 1942. (more…)

Post-War poverty in Socialist Britain (1945 – 51)


Winter queues 1948 /

Winter queues 1948 /

It was a surrealist time to be British. Six years of total war had left the people with their men and womenfolk dead, wounded and crippled as well as bemedalled, heroic and stoic. Most people had lost their home (or homes) to the German bombing. France and Belgium, just over the narrow Channel, had been occupied throughout almost all the Second War, and were recovering much faster than the British. The latter, having listened avidly to the words of a fat old man with a fondness for brandy and cigars asking them to sacrifice everything to beat the German menace, and having followed his indefatigable leadership, showed their loyalty by throwing him and his party out in the 1945 elections. The new Prime Minister was Clement Attlee, an Old Harrovian, who had been Churchill’s Deputy PM during the war. He was one of those patricians who become members of the Labour Party, presumably to reward their parents for sacrificing everything to educate them privately. He was all for NATO, against private incomes and country life. (more…)

General Templer & the Malayan Emergency

Sir Gerald Templer /

Sir Gerald Templer /

Gerald Templer, a boy destined for military honours if ever there was one, was born in 1898. After joining up as a boy soldier he rose rapidly through the ranks to become a Field Marshal. He was a fighting soldier as opposed to a headquarters mapman, and commanded the 6th Armoured Division in World War II.

He was vice-chief of what used to be called the Imperial General Staff when there was still an Empire needing a general staff, and then he was made High Commissioner in Malaya (1952 – 54) during the high moments of the Malayan Emergency. (more…)

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